Climate Change Around the World

Melanie Barry, Staff Writer

The newest climate change-related event to catch the world’s eye were the Australia fires. Within the first week of 2020, word was circulating the globe nearly as fast as the fires were spreading. Around

3,000 firefighters fought at the frontlines of the fires, a staggering 1 billion animals were estimated dead, at least 28 people died in the fires with tens of thousands displaced, and approximately 46 million acres burned.

The fires were mainly concentrated along the southeast coast, which had been experiencing drought and spread throughout dry forests. Dr. Stephen Cornelius, Chief Adviser on Climate Change at the World Wide Fund for Nature said, “[The Australia fires are] a natural phenomenon that are made worse by climate change and the sort of mechanism is: less water, things are drier, higher temperatures, so you get longer fire seasons.” IHS junior Jack Welsh agreed, saying “I think climate change had a big impact on the Australia fires. I don’t think they were necessarily started by climate change, but the reason they are as extreme as they are is due to climate change.”

About climate change, freshman Annika Beck said, “Despite the literal alarm the fires sound, countries are not making the necessary changes to save the planet.” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a change but revealed no solid plans to limit emissions or further invest in renewable energy. Dozens of celebrities promised to donate large sums of money to the cause and used social media to encourage their fan base to do likewise, including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Margot Robbie, Chris Hemsworth, P!nk, and Elton John.

It has now been over a month since the fires since began, and while there have been some recent updates, social media has generally gone silent surrounding the Australia fires. So, what became of Australia? All fires have been declared contained, and it seems like the worst is over. However, a new climate crisis is on the horizon. As sophomore Colin Lenhardt described it, Australia is now facing “the polar opposite of the drought and the fires.”

Heavy thunderstorms and supercell storms are hitting Australia hard. It came as a relief at first, aiding the firefighters in putting out over 30 fires. As of Feb. 24, the Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s largest supply of water, is over 80 percent full in comparison to as low as 43 percent during the drought. Unfortunately, now the rainstorms pose their own sort of threat. Due to the lack of vegetation that was wiped out from the drought and fires, there is virtually nothing to soak up the heavy rain. As a result, flash flooding, mudslides, strong winds, and ash and debris in the water supplies are forcing the New South Wales government to place severe weather warnings and evacuation orders in the region. Tens of thousands have lost power.

Between Feb. 6 and Feb. 10, the New South Wales region experienced 15.4 inches of rain, more than the region has seen in 30 years. The Minister for Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, claims that if not for the drought, the Warragamba Dam would currently be overflowing from the rain and Sydney would have “been in a lot of trouble” from extreme flooding.

In Canberra, golf ball-sized hailstones pounded down on Parliament House, shattering car windows, and delivering a steady stream of dead or injured birds. Trees came down in Miranda, some trapping people inside their cars. In the Blue Mountains, an Australian mountain range, a 16-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man were caught in a storm and injured by lightning. Both are in stable condition after being taken to the hospital and treated for lightning strike entry and exit wounds. Australian residents described the weather situation as “chaos” and a “calamity” as they share photos and videos of rain-swept cities and wrecked cars.

This goes to show that indicators of climate change are not restricted to general global warming – drastic weather on either end of the spectrum is a danger as well. Though Australia has recently gained some stability within the past week, the people of Australia still have a lot of recovery to do in the next months.

Around the same time Australia was facing this climate chaos, Issaquah was experiencing its own set of environmental challenges. Feb. 6, Issaquah students woke up to find school had been pushed back two hours due to flooding. After heavy rain, rising temperatures and snow melt, Issaquah Creek rose significantly and flooded Issaquah roads and houses. Sections of Newport Way Southwest, Newport Way Northwest, Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast, and State Route 900 were closed due to flooding and debris. More than 200 people were evacuated from their homes and many experienced power outage. The city provided sandbags to Issaquah residents.

Homeowner Stanton Bowmer-Vath told local news that flood water flowed into his home and “at one point the entire carpet was floating four to six inches off the floor.” Another man named Gerald Alves said, “The power went off like a half an hour ago. [Firefighters] knocked on the door and they said we need to evacuate. They were very courteous, so I just need to get somewhere and get into some dry clothes. It was just time to go and I’d rather have my kids out and away – safe.”

The City of Issaquah has four official flood phases: Phase 1 – public works and police department are notified, Phase 2 – public works department begins flood fighting activities, Phase 3 – full flood fighting effort in effect, and Phase 4 – maximum flood fighting effort in effect and the city prepares for possible disaster. On Feb. 6, a Phase 4 flood warning was issued for Issaquah Creek.

Lenhardt describes his experience, saying, “I live high up enough so that I wasn’t directly affected, but I live across from Sycamore, so I’m on the flood plain. It was very nerve-racking to watch the water rise and to see it in my friends’ houses.” Welsh says, “My grandparents live in Fall City, and the road to their house was totally flooded.”

Beck says, “My neighborhood was one of the ones that was massively affected. We have one bridge out of our neighborhood with an access route in case of emergency flooding, but the access route got flooded as well so most kids couldn’t get to school. Luckily, I was able to go to school thanks to a really tall truck which was able to get through. My neighborhood is infamously affected by yearly flooding. However, this year it was much worse, even worse than the really bad flood in 2009. After 2009 they raised all the houses in my neighborhood so they couldn’t be flooded, but this year it wasn’t enough.”

Though the Issaquah floods are a less obvious result of climate change, they are still unusual. Many compared the 2020 flooding to the similar 2009 flooding in Issaquah, though it seems most agree that the more recent flooding is considerably worse. “It’s probably the quickest rise and most I’ve seen in a long time, probably more than 2009, which was our last big flood,” said Darcey Strand, another evacuated homeowner. The University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group studies how a warmer Earth will affect Earth. They predict more frequent and heavier rain, which lines up with recent events. Group Director Amy Snover told the Issaquah Reporter, “There will be no normal until we stop increasing greenhouse gas emissions, until we stop increasing the problem . . . These changes aren’t just happening to some other part of the world.”

“When I hear the word ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’, I think about how much we hurt the planet with the fossil fuel industry’s greed,” said Beck. “I think about how bad animal products are for the planet. I think about how little adults are doing while kids like Greta Thunberg and groups like the Sunrise Movement and Fridays for Future are putting all their focus into global warming.” She explained that she recently took all animal products out of her diet and has donated to WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) by “adopting” an animal on the endangered species list for $50.

“Issaquah as a community is very outdoorsy,” said Welsh, “so as people who enjoy nature and outdoor activities, we’re exposed to these environmental changes. We see it. I’m not half as involved in the climate change crisis as I should be, but I do believe that our energy sources need to change. Unfortunately, lots of people don’t believe in climate change’s existence solely on political or economic ground. That belief is pushed by companies who want to protect themselves and don’t want to deal with regulations.”

“Climate change is a topic that can divide us,” said Lendhardt. “It’s very serious, and it’s something that we should address as a unified community. We should take small steps overtime, because I think it’s too much to ask for a big change all at once. It appears overwhelming.”

As weather conditions intensify across the globe, from Issaquah, Washington to Australia, more and more people are being impacted. If the climate is changing, we need to as well.